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15th November 2004 08:00:00
Posted by Dave Foster

Interview with King Arthur Historians

Buena Vista have sent through an interview with two King Arthur historians for DVDTimes viewers to enjoy.

King Arthur - Antoine Fuqua's sword-clashing epic starring British favourites Clive Owen and Kiera Knightley is out to own on DVD from 29th November in two separate extras filled DVDs. The theatrical version is being released alongside a previously unseen Director's Cut of the film with a 15 certificate. This version features an all action look at the bloody savagery of the ancient battlefield - with the full gritty glory of extended battle scenes included within the additional 17 minute run time. DTS sound is exclusively included on the Director's Cut DVD.

Features on both editions include an Alternate Ending and Blood on the Land: Forging King Arthur, a behind-the-scenes making of special. Read our full review of the director's cut.




KING ARTHUR HISTORIANS


English historian John Matthews, who has written and compiled more than 50 books on the subject of Arthur and was the film’s historical advisor and American expert Dr Linda Malcor.


QUESTION: Through the Historia Brittonium by Nennius in the 9th century we hear about Arthur so how close to history is the movie?

LINDA MALCOR: With history you come at it the same way you do with harder sciences such as chemistry - you form a hypothesis and test your results, collect your evidence and see what conclusion comes out. As more evidence presents itself sometimes you find yourself having to rework your hypothesis. So what we have now is the best hypothesis we have to come up with date. It may change in a few years, it may not. Maybe we’re right. Maybe we will find more evidence to back it up.


QUESTION: How did the legend happen?

LINDA MALCOR: What we have in the Arthurian tradition is actually something that is a fusion between history and some sort of a traditional folk tale. How big of a mix depends on whether you have sacred history or oral tradition or just out and out fairy tale. What we have being transmitted during the time of the Roman Empire is one tradition that’s coming into Britain with 5,500 Sarmatian warriors who are bringing in a tradition and history. Their leader was Lucus Arturius Castus who fought these 12 or so battles against the Caledonii. Then who have another group of their cousins, the Alans, coming into Northern France whose tales were more toward the fairy tale and Lancelot comes from that. Then you have another group that comes down from Rome and those guys go around Southern France with part of the temple treasure from Rome...branch candlesticks and emerald encrusted golden cups, this sort of thing. So you have a Grail tradition coming from the South of France. So you get into the Middle Ages and these stories are being told and then the Medieval authors like Thomas Mallory pulled all the tales together. Also when you have a big mass of legend like that it starts attracting other stories that used to belong to other people. As it goes from culture to culture a Celtic people is going to put in a Celtic style of story telling....the Germanic put their style on it. So you get all those layers.

JOHN MATTHEWS: Each new age and culture finds its own Arthur and adds to it so it gradually builds up and by the time you get to the 15th Century you have all these layers. It is either like a layer cake or an archaeological dig. The strata goes down and down all the time. What we have is the bottom strata, the bedrock because there is no evidence of anyone called Arthur or indeed functioning in any way as an Arthurian figure before this period that we are talking about. The evidence is becoming more detailed all the time. Every new bit that comes to light seems to point more and strongly towards this character and his followers as being the seed from which the great forest of Arthurian legend grows.


QUESTION: What about the Scots claim to Arthur with Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh?

LINDA MALCOR: Lucius Arturius Castus fought most of his battles in the north of Britain and into Scotland ending up in the area around Dumbarton. So Scotland has a big part in that. There is a northern Merlin.

JOHN MATTHEWS: Merlin comes from a very early Dark Age Scots tribal culture. The oldest mentions of the name from which you can derive Merlin come from the north. The thing is that Arthur gets claimed just as strongly by the Welsh, the Cornish and the Bretons. All of them would like to have my head because I am saying he’s northern. But the point is that Arthur is a hero for the whole of the country. Arthur is British.


QUESTION: Is it true that Excalibur and the Sword In The Stone legend is linked to Sarmatian religion?

LINDA MALCOR: Herodotus describes the worship of a war god as the sword being plunged into a wooden platform on top of a grave. By the 4th and 5th century the Alans plunged the sword directly into the earth. That represents a powerful war god and that gets carried straight into the Middle Ages where you have Crusaders plunging their swords into the ground and that is still representing a God.


QUESTION: Is Thomas Malory’s take on the legend of Arthur - Le Morte D’Arthur - just a nice fairy tale?

JOHN MATTHEWS: I don’t think it is a fairy tale. In its essence I think it is one of those great human stories that very easily becomes a myth and is seen as a myth but started out as a real story about a real person; someone who stood for something of value and is remembered because of that. So I’m very passionate about the fact that Arthur existed, wherever he came from.


QUESTION: How do you look at a comic Arthur film like Monty Python And The Holy Grail?

JOHN MATTHEWS: When I was on the set there was a day watching some long scene being shot for the 15th time and I was talking to some of the crew who ended up knowing most of the script of Monty Python by heart. So we ended up standing there doing a whole scene from Monty Python which was good fun. But it’s not my favourite, apart from this movie Excalibur is my favourite because more it’s faithful to the Medieval fantasy vision. It is a very powerful story.


QUESTION: Were you surprised that the film makers did not want a Hollywood version of King Arthur?

JOHN MATTHEWS: They were committed right from the start to make this film accurate. The first time I met the producer, director and the writer was on Hadrian’s Wall itself and the first thing they said was we want to get this right and for it to be as authentic as we can get it. They have achieved that superbly I think. They listened to us. We would say something was not right and they would change it. That was staggering and it has made it a better movie because of that.


About Dave Foster
Dave has been loitering the virtual halls of TDF for a decade now and the majority of that time has been spent as Editor of the Home Cinema section (formerly DVDTimes). He doesn't contribute reviews anywhere near as much as he once did (or indeed would like to) but when he does it will invariably be something in the anime or Asian film area.


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